Student Employability and The Educators' Dilemma
The Educators' Dilemma is thus: Should we be arguing for status quo and for leaving the profession on its own devices, or should we argue for the change and that a good education can help us challenge the assumptions and ensure that the change is for better? The latter case is stronger, and allows the educators to reclaim the intellectual leadership of the changing society, but we tend to fall back on the lazy charm of professional security. The case for professional security is already lost, I shall argue, as the founding assumptions of the academic profession rested on a vision of the state that has been effectively abandoned, for good or for worse, and a new framework, based on broader social changes and complexity of knowledge, would be needed to justify what education does.
The case is complex, but it can be made: We need more than just vocational pretensions to offer a good education. We may say employers know, but they only entertain a micro perspective of the world, informed by their own self-contained needs. And, the limits of these needs are self-evident within the employers' own frameworks. They may make the case for certain skills, but evidently they are only too aware that these skills by themselves are not enough. For example, they may talk about problem solving, but problem finding is increasingly becoming a big problem, and vocationalism has no clear answer to this. Communication skills are often cited, but emphasis on articulation may create other issues, such as respect and toleration, which may affect another sought after attribute: Collaboration. And, even though collaboration is loved among everyone, the template for collaboration may not be same for everyone. So, how does one get laser sharp focus on problem solving with the serendipitous approach to problem finding, effective communication along with respect and tolerance, collaboration with space for the diverse, abundant self-confidence along with the sensitivity and quick learning? The debate, once thus framed, should make the case for a good education.
Indeed, this may justify the educators' plea to be left alone, but only if the case is made in terms of change and not against it. Education is about hope and education is about judgement. The direction of change today, which leaves a lot of losers for a few winners, make education more relevant and not less. The education profession, which has perhaps lost its sense of purpose in the bureaucratic privileges granted by state that used to be, is losing its relevance by trying to stand outside the debate of broader social change. Yet, it is its historic opportunity: To make the case for a different future, one where many can live lives of participation and fulfillment rather than becoming productive assets in the plans of the few; to create the possibilities beyond the current gilded age, where knowledge helps us to resist rather than consume, and makes us free, rather than indebted; and to imagine a future of cooperation and coexistence, rather than a hierarchical system of exploitation that seems to be falling apart violently. It is educators' responsibility to change the debate, but that won't come without a reexamination of its own pretensions first.